Who are the ones to watch in the CFL in 2019? Going into a season it is always an intriguing question.
For UK based football fans who are geared up for following the NFL it is helpful too to have some perspective on who might be worth watching in this ‘other’ league.
We have already done a guide to the teams, so this is an opportunity to look at some players.
It is best to keep it simple though as we don’t want to overload anyone. So here is a list of 2 players for every one of the league’s nine teams. One established star, and one who may be about to ascend.
Established Star: Mike Reilly
Reilly really is the obvious place to start in BC. This was The off-season signing going into this year. The 2015 Grey Cup MVP and 2017 MOP is undoubtedly a CFL superstar and favourite of fantasy players even if pricey!
This is a quarterback on a run of of three consecutive seasons of over 5,000 passing yards, multiple all star selections and coming off back to back 30 TD seasons. The Lions will be hoping their investment returns more of the same.
On the Up: Jordan Herdman-Reed
This is a player you feel is coming into his own. He may only have had 2 defensive tackles in 2017, but last year he really stepped up.
Following injury to Solomon Elimimian the Lions D could have buckled. Instead Herdman-Reed was a capable ‘next man up’. He improved in 2018 with 56 defensive tackles, 17 special teams tackles and 2 sacks. Lions fans will be hoping he keeps growing in the role.
Established Star: Bo Levi Mitchell
When Mitchell returned to Calgary it was arguably as big an off season move as Reilly moving to BC.
Mitchell has been the Stamps’ starter since 2014. He has played 125 career games for Calgary and thrown for 24,473 yards and 150 touchdowns. He is the first quarterback ever to lead Calgary to multiple championships as a starter.
On the Up: Don Jackson
In his first year with the Stampeders, Jackson started 13 regular-season games and led the team with 924 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry. He also had 23 receptions for 168 yards.
Jackson started both post-season games in 2018, rushing for 83 yards in the Western Final. He had 53 yards rushing, 39 yards receiving and the game’s first touchdown in the Stamps’ Grey Cup win.
Established Star: Greg Ellingson
However Edmonton have to be gutted that their investment in this lineman has already been torpedoed by a triceps injury. The question is can the big guy get back on the field this year? It would be a huge boost to Edmonton later in the season if he can.
Instead, I am suggesting you should look out for another player they plundered from Ottawa, star receiver Greg Ellingson.
Ellingson appeared in 17 games for Ottawa last year where he caught 91 passes for 1,086 yards and five touchdowns. In the East Final, he caught eight passes for 144 yards and one touchdown and in the 105th Grey Cup, he caught four passes for 58 yards.
He is coming of his third straight CFL East All Star season, including being named a league All Star in 2017.
Over the past three seasons, Ellingson has caught 263 passes for 3,805 yards and 21 touchdowns. The fact that Trevor Harris is also now an Esk means he will be very comfortable with his QB too.
On the Up: Monshadrik Hunter
Hunter appeared in 12 games for the Esks in 2018 with 9 starts. He converted those opportunities into 26 defensive tackles and nine special teams tackles. He also snagged 2 interceptions and had 1 fumble recovery.
All of which was enough for Edmonton to tag him as their 2018 Most Outstanding Rookie.
Although the Eskimos will have a new defensive coordinator, the future looks bright for Hunter.
Established Star: William Powell
Powell is definitively among the league’s best running backs. As a premier free agent, his signing was something of a coup for the Riders.
The 5-foot-8 and 210 pound Powell offers a combination of speed and power with good hands out of the backfield. He’s also an excellent blocker.
In 2018, he had 251 carries for 1,362 yards with six rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns over 16 games. The previous year, he ran for 1,026 yards and five rushing touchdowns in 12 games.
On the Up: Kyran Moore
Moore has the opportunity to develop for the Green and White. He catches they eye because he offered a special teams threat and could convert into a potentially bigger part of the receiving corps.
In 2018 he started 10 regular-season games and had 32 receptions for 475 yards and one touchdown. He also had one 100-yard game.
Not to mention he had 29 punt returns for 389 yards and two touchdowns, and three kickoff returns for 82 yards. Moore started in the Western Final where he contributed four punt returns for 67 yards and one missed field-goal return for 25 yards.
The flashes of speed and agility Moore has shown auger well for the future.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Established Star: Adam Bighill
Bighill is a 5 time CFL all star and 2 time CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player. When you watch the Bombers on D he often seems to be all over the field.
On the Up: Jonathan Kongbo
This one is slightly different as I’ve gone for a player drafted only this year by Winnipeg. Kongbo was at the top of the Blue Bombers draft board and if he lives up to potential could be disruptive on the D line.
A knee injury last year meant he slipped away from contention for a potential NFL training camp invite. He is now busy rehabbing and hoping to be ready to go by July.
The former Tennessee Volunteer played 30 games – 17 starts – over three seasons in the SEC as a linebacker and defensive lineman. He had 51 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and two knockdowns. Winnipeg will be looking for him to recover physically and have the motivation to prove he should not have been overlooked.
Established Star: Delvin Breaux
Breaux has only played three years in the CFL but there is no doubting his talent at this level. In 2018 his one year contract with the Ti-Cats apparently made him the highest paid defensive back in the league. You only spend that money if the investment is worthwhile.
Undrafted out of LSU, Breaux has played in the CFL in 2013, 2014 and 2018. In 2014 he started 16 regular season games and notched up 33 defensive tackles, five pass knockdowns, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
He was named a CFL and East Division All-Star for that performance and received the same accolades in 2018. This after playing and starting 14 regular season games where he registered 24 defensive tackles, two forced fumbles, two pass knockdowns and one touchdown.
Breaux re-signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a three-year contract in February this year.
Hamilton fans will hope he is part of a defensive jigsaw that will see them build on their East Division final appearance last year.
On the Up: Bralon Addison
A former Oregon Duck, Addison played 39 games in Eugene (2012-15), snagging 146 receptions for 1,937 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Along with that he had 37 punt returns for 450 yards and two touchdowns, 12 kickoffs for 220 yards.
Clearly the talent is there. In his debut with Hamilton he had 7 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.
In the 2018 playoffs he was a major factor. His 17 catches and 253 yards in two games was split into an Eastern Semi-Final five receptions for 124 yards and Eastern Final 12 receptions for 129 yards.
It feels like this could be the start of something big for Addison if he fits well with the new offense in Hamilton.
Established Star: Hénoc Muamba
In 2013 he had 106 tackles (2nd most in the league), 1 quarterback sack, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery and 1 defensive touchdown. In 2018 Muamba registered a career high in tackles with 108, a career high in sacks with 5, as well as one interception and one forced fumble.
After signing a new deal last year, Muamba wound up being the Als nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, Defensive Player, and Canadian Player.
The Alouettes will be looking for more defensive dominance in 2019.
On the Up: Eugene Lewis
Lewis has played only 20 games in the CFL so far. He has 51 catches to his name good for 947 yards and 4 touchdowns.
What is so impressive is that he broke though in his sophomore year in the league (2017) taking 44 catches for 800+ yards. Despite, that is, a revolving door behind centre that saw him catching passes from five different quarterbacks.
Montreal fans will hope his 318 yards and 3 touchdowns over the last 4 games of the 2018 season are a sign of things to come.
Established Star: Brad Sinopoli
Last year I asserted that it felt like Sinopoli was “on a one-man mission to bring back some memories.”
This was because Sinopoli was constantly reaching benchmarks that reminded of players of the past like Ben Cahoon and “Mookie” Mitchell.
He may have spent 8 years in the league, but it has been his time in Ottawa that has really seen Sinopoli blossom. Since becoming a REDBLACK he has caught 383 passes for 4,456 yards and 14 touchdowns over 4 seasons.
Sinopoli is a three time Lew Hayman trophy winner, three time CFL East All-Star, 2 time winner of the CFL Most Outstanding Canadian award, 2018 CFL All-Star, and the 2016 recipient of the Dick Suderman Trophy.
Last year Sinopoli played in 17 games, resting for the last game of the regular season, but still managed to post a career-high 116 receptions for 1376 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He set an all-time CFL record for receptions in a season by a Canadian player.
On the Up: R J Harris
In 2018 he played 16 games for Ottawa. Over that span he had 49 receptions for 697 yards and 2 touchdowns.
This might be his best chance to take the next step in the pros.
Established Star: S J Green
Since being signed by the Argos he has been a veteran stabilizing influence on the team. He has also been named a CFL All-Star for the third time in his career and won his third Grey Cup.
The Argos will look for him to add to his stats of 9,183 yards and 56 touchdowns whilst adding further stability for young QB James Franklin.
On the Up: James Wilder Jr
I know what a lot of you are thinking with this choice – what?? How can he say that?
After all Wilder Jr was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2017. That year he had 872 yards and five TDs on 122 carries as well as cautching 51 passes for 533 yards.
Last year a season ending injury after 13 games saw him finish with 691 yards rushing and another 396 receiving yards.
He may already have a Grey Cup ring but you feel like Wilder Jr has really yet to fully break out.
His talent and physicality could and perhaps should see him become more of a focus for the Argos O.
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